The Perception and Stereotype of Modern Day Rednecks
By Carson Pickett Popular Culture. Daneen B.
“The challenge for “real” rednecks lies in breaking free of the expected parameters of the identity. With the long circulation of functional stereotype pasted onto the identity, writers from Appalachia and the South who do not exhibit the expected identity characteristics face narrative obscurity. I argue that by giving credence to the individuals who write back against Redneck stereotypes, the identity can be wrested free from its current ideological functions (Ferrence, 2014).”
Picture this: You are walking down the sidewalk with your friends when you see an older gentleman with a beard and a beer belly wearing dirty overalls and a torn up t-shirt. He smiles at you and your friends with a big, toothless grin and says, “Howdy y’all!” in a thick southern accent. What is your first impression of this man? Hillbilly, dirty, poor, crazy? Whatever your initial judgments might be, they would likely agree with the modern day perception of a stereotypical redneck. Today, people are more familiar with the kind of rednecks that are portrayed in popular culture. Some examples of these portrayals are the comedian, Larry the Cable Guy, the reality TV-show Duck Dynasty, and even popular country songs such as Redneck Woman. How people commonly picture rednecks is often misconstrued due to the exaggerated modern-day portrayals of this stereotype in popular media.
Larry the Cable Guy might be more easily recognized by his coined phrase, “GIT-R-DONE.” Larry also talks in a thick southern accent. He typically wears a ratted plaid button up shirt with the sleeves cut off and usually has a drink in his hand. His shows consist of him making jokes about white trash, work, and just redneck life in general.The portrayal of this alter ego on stage is where a lot of people developed their perspective of rednecks.
In Matthew Ferrence’s book, All-American Redneck, he thoroughly describes Whitney’s character and how it affects audiences. Ferrence states that Larry the Cable Guy has become the most popular and clear-cut redneck comedic. Larry is an overweight man that wears a sleeveless plaid shirt, a camo ball cap, and a Confederate battle flag. This simplified image offered to audiences renders America toward the Redneck (Ferrence, 2014). Larry maintains the narrowed scope of the Redneck identity and supports the stereotype of the white, rural, racist homophobic male.
Ferrence states that Larry is clearly an exaggerated version of the Redneck, but the audience nonetheless laughs and participates with him. Many audience members can be seen wearing the Confederate battle flag hat that Larry does, or wearing his slogan, “Git’r done” on their shirts (Ferrence, 2014). Ferrence then takes his analysis in another direction and goes on to explain that Larry’s redneck identity is used to conceal the racism America. He fits the image of Redneck Racist that offers an explanation and support for continuing racism. Thus, Larry makes it safe for his audience to support racism since he is the one making the statements, not them. This makes it so the images of the working class converge with the maintenance of white supremacy, and further supports the idea that rednecks are racist. “Championed as the mighty Redneck resistance against the dangers of an America gone soft, Larry speaks the “truth” that the audience wants to be able to utter in their daily lives (Ferrence, 2014).”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the TV show Duck Dynasty brings a more PG light to the redneck stereotype.
Duck Dynasty is comical show about a family of redneck millionaires living in a rural part of Louisiana. Similar to Larry the Cable Guy, each family member in the show has a thick southern accent and frequently uses incorrect grammar. One may notice that every adult male in the show has a long beard, and the majority also have long hair. They are also most commonly filmed wearing a hat, bandana, fur or camouflage. The way these characters look and dress also add to the audience’s idea that rednecks are poorly groomed. In other words, people see these guys on TV who are representing rednecks and get the idea that if you have a beard, wear camo, talk with an accent and aren’t very well groomed, you must also be a redneck.
The Robertsons are a big family that seem to always be with each other. This seems to be a common trait among redneck culture. In Bultman’s book, Redneck Heaven, she explained that one could often see 3 or 4 generations of a redneck family out in public together. She also stated the common act of the family openly sharing affection and pleasure in each other’s company (Bultman, 1996). This is also often the case with this redneck family.
Phil, one of the patriarchs of the family, wrote a book describing life before and after the TV show. Phil mentions the show’s producers were throwing ideas around about a new reality TV show and Phil jokingly says, “They said, why not one about a functional family?” and so they came to the Robertsons (Robertson, 2013). He also claims that, “Except for our manly appearances, it might not seem that we’re all that different from everyone else.” Phil’s son Jep also chimes in with a statement about his childhood. “I guess growing up in the Robertson household was like growing up in a lot of American households. Since I was really young, we were skinning fish, cleaning squirrels and picking dewberries. They were everyday events. Okay, so maybe my upbringing was a little atypical (Robertson, 2013).” Bottom line: the audience views these characters completely differently than they view themselves. “To the men of the Robertson clan, the term “redneck” is not a pejorative; rather, it signifies honor, love of one’s family, and dedication to their land and hunting (Narro, et al., 2014).” The Robertson’s are proud of the way they are. That sense of pride leads me to this next source.
For those who haven’t heard Gretchen Wilson’s song, Redneck Woman, or seen the music video, here you go: (https://youtu.be/82dDnv9zeLs). The video begins with a scene of Gretchen and other riding four wheelers through the river and mud. She is wearing dirty, ripped jeans and an old ball cap with her hair pulled back in a ponytail. The video then switches to her playing the song on stage at a concert. While she is playing, she is wearing jeans and a plain t-shirt with her hair down and her makeup done. The video continues to switch scenes back and forth between the four wheelers in the mud and her concert. There are also flashes of some scenes of a trailer park, people drinking beer, motorcycles, and her muddy truck.
The outfit Gretchen is originally shown wearing makes quite a statement about “redneck women.” She is the only woman playing in the dirt with the boys and is wearing jeans and a hat just like they are. The fact that the video then switches to her looking absolutely beautiful in just a t-shirt and jeans at her concert just adds to the effect of her lyrics. The video is showing that she is a redneck because she can go out and get dirty but she’s proud of who she is because she can then go get dressed up and still look beautiful without all the makeup and expensive brand names.
Gretchen Wilson’s identity literally became the Redneck Woman. It was the tag line that introduced her to the public. Wilson’s song remade the identity of a white, working-class female into one that was bereaved of status (Hubbs, 2011). The record affirms the distinctiveness and legitimacy of the Redneck Woman. “It offers moments of burlesque in lyrics touting the narrator’s unrepentant year-round Christmas displays, barefoot baby-toting, and preference for cheap Walmart lingerie. But it stakes serious claims for her resourcefulness, country affiliations and tastes, desirability, and, especially, agency (Hubbs, 2011).” The song works to remodel this social identity by rebuking a downward gaze. It intends to demolish the dominant class’s lowly perspective of this culture while also raising morale and pride among fellow rednecks.
This sense of Redneck pride originates from many sources and events. The following is an excerpt from Huber’s Redneck: A Short Note From American Labor History, which provides one example of the origination of redneck pride.
Union coal miners wore red handkerchiefs around their necks in order to avoid sunburn. Thus, this group was infamously nicknamed “rednecks (Huber, 1994).” The miners responded to this disdainful name by proudly adopting it as a badge of honor. The red handkerchief served as a symbol to identify the coal miners as a group. It was also a major symbol of the U.S. labor movement. In the midst of the movement, even workers of Italian descent tied red handkerchiefs around their necks in a display of racial and interethnic solidarity against the coal mining companies, thus shifting focus from ethnicity to the unifying red handkerchief. The organized miners proudly referred to themselves as rednecks to distinguish themselves from the strikebreakers, or “scabs (Huber, 1994).
One may spot some similarities in the previous sources that all contribute redneck stereotype. At one point or another, all characters of the media sources wear ratty, dirty or muddy clothing. They also all speak with southern accents and use slang such as y’all, yee haw, hell yeah, etc. Each person also states the pride they take in being the way they are. For example, Gretchen makes it obvious how proud she is of being a “redneck woman” and not a “high-class broad.” The Robertson family also claims how happy they are to be able to live the way they do.
Upon searching the term redneck in Google, one might first see the following images:
The way rednecks are depicted in my original media sources only add to the stereotypical images above. However, they each give deeper insight into the lives of rednecks and also allow viewers to see that they aren’t just poor, unintelligent hillbillies with poor hygiene and missing teeth. Some actually have money and are smart, but also proud of the way they are.
So, what is the actual definition of redneck? Some may say a redneck is a toothless, white-trash hillbilly. Some may say, “redneck is a synonym for dumber-than-spit hair trigger racists (Bultman, 1996).” Some may say a redneck is backward, dirty, lazy, and crass. Although the idea of the redneck may be traced historically as a s term assigned to a sun burned Southern laborer or to a striking coal miner wearing a red handkerchief, a single representation of the word cannot be defined (Ferrence, 2014).
“Redneck is a label applied to separate a certain class away from the mainstream. But equally notable is that contemporary use of the term is often quite positive. Think, here, of Gretchen Wilson’s celebratory country song “Redneck Woman” or the wildly popular Blue Collar Comedy Tour. In these instances, individuals proudly proclaim their own redneck position as a means to self- identify as different from a mainstream viewed as corrupt or too urbane or simply undesirable. In this sense, a new definition of the redneck as hero emerges, complicated by the self-avowal with which it is applied (Ferrence, 2014).”
While the redneck image originally came from white Southern and Appalachian roots, the modern day identity has no geographical bounds. “Anyone in America may safely claim the title of “redneck,” regardless of origin, locale, or social position (Ferrence, 2014).”No matter where you’re from, no matter your economic or social background, you can claim the redneck identity as long as you act the part.
However, the stereotypes still follow the title. Even while the function of the image shifted over time, the limits of the redneck stereotype remained clear (Ferrence, 2014). Camouflage, pickup trucks, incest, chewing tobacco and NASCAR may always be stereotypically associated with this identity.
Rednecks seem to be everywhere these days. Some individuals adopt the title as a mark of pride, while others assume the title to rail against degenerates in the woods. Redneck can simultaneously identify a person as Southern, racist, or poor and positively define a person as self-reliant and patriotic (Ferrence, 2014). The term is available for the humor of popular TV shows and media, just as it is also available as a description of lower classes, or as a badge of honor tapping into a historical resistance. This is why the term redneck is so difficult to define.
How this applies to me
Even though I wear boots and was raised on ranches,
and even though my friends and I sometimes shoot and skin squirrels for fun,
I am not a true redneck. There are definitely some redneck aspects to my identity, but I am too much of a city girl to be a true, southern redneck.
However, there is a part of me that will always be categorized under the redneck category. Like my sources stated, family is very important in redneck culture. My family is one of the most important aspects of my life. They are the reason I am the way I am today. I have so much pride for my family name and everything that comes along with it. From successes to hardships, I draw strength from it all. We rope, ride, shoot, and even ride in broken wheelbarrows behind the four-wheeler for fun. We may not be the most conventional family, but there is not one aspect I would change about who we are, what we came from, or what we represent.
I guess redneck pride is a real thing, even if I’m not a true, southern redneck. I wouldn’t change my redneck heritage for anything.
So many aspects of this term really got me thinking about how my life and views are affected by popular culture. I honestly haven’t looked at advertisements the same since! One moment in particular that stuck out to me this term was when we reflected on the commercials that evoked personal emotions. I was able to look back at a commercial that I have never been able to get out of my head and then actually reflect on why it had such a big impact on me. I was also pretty excited that next week when my evaluation was used as an example on the following week’s blog post.
This review also helped me realize what makes advertisements in general the most impactful and effective.
The second most memorable moment for me this term may seem pretty nerdy, but I was really excited about it. When we needed to find secondary sources to back up or argue against our primary sources, I really struggled at first. I had the hardest time finding anything related to my original sources and on top of that, I couldn’t figure out how to use the library’s website the way we were instructed to. After hours of trying different ways to search for sources and also after asked Kim questions, it clicked! I even figured out how to get an unavailable book shipped to the library (and now I have like 7 books on rednecks/duck dynasty etc.)! This may have been easy for others in my class, but for me I wasn’t at all. Learning the hard way is somehow more impactful for me anyhow ;).
The techniques I have learned in the class will definitely help me with the rest of my studies. I learned how to analyze news media and advertisements as well as how to correctly search for and utilize sources. Overall, this term has been pretty good to me!
Bultman, B. (1996). Redneck heaven: Portrait of a vanishing culture. NY: Bantam Books.
Ferrence, M. J.(2014). All-American Redneck: Variations on an Icon, from James Fenimore Cooper to the Dixie Chicks. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press. Retrieved May 31, 2016, from Project MUSE database.
Hubbs, N. (2011). “Redneck Woman” and the Gendered Poetics of Class Rebellion. Southern Cultures 17(4), 44-70. The University of North Carolina Press. Retrieved May 31, 2016, from Project MUSE database.
Huber, P. (1994). Redneck: A short note from American labor history. Duke University Press. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/455956
Narro, A., Slade, A., Buchanan, B. (2014). Reality television: Oddities of culture. Plymouth, UK: Lexington Books.
Robertson, P. (2013). Happy, happy, happy. New York, NY: Howard Books.